Nigerian Elections - Time to demand a fairer society

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Nigeria’s presidential and general elections are scheduled for 14 February. The People’s Democratic Party has been in power since 1999. The dramatic drop in oil prices on the world market, and the escalating insurgency of Boko Haram mean these elections may be the first real opportunity for an opposition party to win. The All Progressives Congress (APC) is the main opposition party. However, many people from the northern states most affected by the insurgency will not be able to vote due to displacement. The Independent National Electoral Commission is considering excluding Boko Haram-controlled communities in northern Nigeria from receiving permanent voter cards. This will negatively impact on the APC, which has strong support in the north.

Neither of the two main parties is promising any structural change that would mean a more equal distribution of Nigeria’s wealth. The Independent National Electoral Commission refused to allow the registration of the Socialist Party of Nigeria in the elections. Whatever the outcome, there is a real fear of civil unrest, as a large section of the population will be very unhappy.

The Nigerian people have been systematically let down by their successive governments. What attempts have been made over the years to develop the nation were thwarted by Structural Adjustment Programmes imposed by the IMF and World Bank to service debts the majority of the population had never benefited from. In addition, Nigeria’s leadership has siphoned off much of the country’s wealth through corruption.

Nigeria is the sixth largest producer of crude oil in the world, producing a highly sought after, high-grade oil. It has the economic potential to develop and diversify its economy. Instead, much of the proceeds of Nigeria’s oil wealth have remained within the privileged class. In 2014, Nigeria was declared to be the largest economy in Africa. Whilst the rich enjoy their privileged lifestyle – with hundreds of private jets and other trappings of wealth to signify membership of the international elite – over 70% of the Nigerian population exist below the poverty line. Approximately 40% of the working-age population in Nigeria are unemployed, and large numbers are under-employed and poorly paid workers.

Nigeria tops the international league tables for having the highest number of children out of school. Nigeria invests less on education than almost any other African country. Even according to capitalist economists, ‘good’ practice dictates that a government should spend 6% of its GDP and 20% of its budget on education. Nigeria spends just 1.5% of its GDP and 6% of its budget. This is clearly scandalous. It is a basic fact that a country must invest in education to ensure the development of its nation and the growth of its people.

All sections of society have been grossly underfunded over the decades – including health care, infrastructure building and the maintenance of what was a flourishing and diverse agricultural sector at the time of independence. The imperialist policies implemented by successive governments have resulted in a Nigeria that has mustered a level of development that is a shadow of its true potential.

The emergence of a grouping such as Boko Haram is symptomatic of the neocolonialist path Nigeria has taken since flag independence. The people of Nigeria of all ethnicities have united and launched a campaign against the atrocities committed by Boko Haram, protesting on the streets and openly criticising the government. However, imperialist media coverage has reduced, and there was scant mention of the recent atrocity in January, which saw 2,000 men, women and children killed in the town of Baga, situated in Borno State in northern Nigeria. When the insurgents entered Baga on 3 January, the army abandoned the military base there, leaving the civilians to fend for themselves. In the last year, more than 10,000 Nigerians have been killed as a result of the insurgency as Boko Haram attempts to create an Islamic caliphate. It is a surprise that the Nigerian army – which has led successful peacekeeping missions in Africa – is struggling to contain Boko Haram. There are many puzzling questions to be answered. It is said, including by the current President Goodluck Jonathan, that Boko Haram members can be found in the government, judiciary, armed forces and the police. Is it simply an internal battle for power?

Boko Haram’s level of violence has escalated over time. In 2009, the state response to it was very brutal, including the killing of its original leader. Today it appears that Boko Haram has links with Al Qaeda, and is receiving arms and finance from abroad. This draws the group into the imperialist game playing taking place on the international stage. Despite the imperialist countries declaring a ‘war on terror’, with particular focus on Islamic extremists including Al Qaeda and IS, it is a fact that imperialism has aided and abetted such Islamic fundamentalists when it is in its interests to do so. This has been apparent in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Syria. Imperialism’s attempts to give support to end the insurgency have resulted in disagreement with the Nigerian government. Certainly the United States have been very keen to establish a military base in Nigeria as part of their AFRICOM initiative, which the Nigerian government has categorically refused. The AFRICOM initiative is a US strategy to further its imperialist hold on Africa.

Of interest is that Nigeria’s relationship with China is growing stronger. It has given preference to Chinese oil firms over those of the dominant imperialist powers, and China is supporting Nigeria by developing a range of infrastructure projects. This development weakens imperialism’s hold on Nigeria. 85% of Nigerians view China’s influence positively, whilst negative views of the US have increased (BBC World Service poll 2014).

This period must be the start of the majority of Nigeria’s people demanding and achieving a fairer society, with a more equal distribution of the country’s wealth and proper investment in the economy and education.

Funmi Akinyemi

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 243 February/March 2015